Hygge for Health and Happiness!

candlelanterns

I am fascinated by wellness practices around the world and how environments help shape what we do to take care of our physical and mental well-being. Things like shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) in Japan, the culture of sauna in Finland, siestas of Latin America…but one practice I just recently learned of is the practice of Hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga) in Denmark.

Did you know that Denmark rates #1 on the list of happiest places in the world? Why is that when their winter days are extremely cold and short? How do they keep their happy disposition despite what some might think of as a challenging environment? I live in the Pacific Northwest where it is undeniably beautiful but winters are dark and rainy and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real thing for a lot of people. I was hoping the Danes might have a trick or two to help us through the darkest part of our year.

Denmark is doing a lot of very cool things that probably contribute to it being the happiest country on earth. Things like the fact that 50% of commuters in the largest city of Copenhagen commute by bike. There is extensive parental support when it comes to paid leave after having a child. They have universal health care. They provide free (or very low cost) high quality early childhood education and consequently many more women return to the workforce post-baby.  Gender equality is rated as very high.

In one interview a Danish woman said she believed that they were such a happy people because they felt safe. They don’t have to stress out about whether or not to have children because they know they will have lots of support. They don’t have to worry about the cost of health issues if someone gets sick. They have a strong sense of community and social support.

There is one other thing they do that I think we should embrace here in the Great Northwest -the practice of Hygge. Hygge doesn’t translate perfectly into English but it means something like “the feeling of coziness” They make a point – especially in the winter – of making their surroundings inviting, comfortable and festive. The winter season is dominated by festivals and gathering of family and friends.

5 Easy Ways to Practice Hygge at Home

  • Light candles – The Danes love candles! You can bring a little Hygge into your home by lighting candles on your mantle or at the table.
  • Snuggle under blankets with a hot drink and a good book – Even better if someone else is snuggling under that blanket with you!
  • Warm foot bath- If you aren’t sure you want to go to the trouble of a full blown bubble bath (although I’d say that would be very Hygge) try a decadent foot soak with epsom salt and a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
  • Enjoy a treat- One component of Hygge is enjoying delicious holiday treats in a mindful way without feeling guilty about it afterwards – just making a point to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate them.
  • Turn on some relaxing music during dinner time. Make the mealtime environment warm and inviting.

Really what I think Hygge boils down to is taking care of ourselves and appreciating the important things in our lives – our family and friends, our warm cozy homes, good food. It’s understanding that our bodies need a change of pace as the seasons change and embracing it rather than fighting it. We could all use a little more Hygge in our lives. Hygge for health and happiness!

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

 

 

Mindful Eating 101

fresh-strawberries-and-blackberries-in-little-bowl-picjumbo-com.jpg

I was first introduced to the idea of mindful eating about 10 years ago. A friend of mine had just returned from a week long yoga retreat where they had been taught and practiced mindful eating at every meal. She raved about the way she was able to slow down, how much faster she felt full and how eating had become a transforming experience.  It sounded totally awesome – and like something you just did when attending a week long yoga retreat. But as it turns out mindful eating is something that when practiced as part of our daily lives can have a huge impact on our health.

So what exactly is mindful eating?

Let’s start with the opposite of mindful eating. Have you ever caught yourself watching a movie and munching away on chips when you reach for another and realize all of the sudden that you’ve eaten the entire bag? Or, maybe after a long day at work you come home tired, get the kids fed and down for bed and then dive into a bowl of ice cream, because you’ve had a long day and you feel like you’ve earned it?  Have you ever bolted your lunch in the car while driving between meetings or bought the same food every time you go to the grocery store even though you know it’s not the best for you but because it is what you always get and is familiar? I have to admit to having done all of these things at one time or another.

Unless you are a mindfulness master (I’m a mindful master, I can mindful faster…okay, okay, sorry!) these are examples of very real scenarios that many of us go through. Mindful eating is about raising our level of consciousness when it comes to the way we think about food.  It is important not only to pick healthy whole foods that will sustain and nourish us, but also to adjust our mindset when it comes to the act of eating. It is about the gratitude that we express for our food and recognizing what it took for it to reach our plate. It’s about slowing down and really appreciating what the food is doing for our bodies and tuning in to how it makes us feel. It’s about becoming more aware of ourselves to understand whether or not we’re even hungry in that moment. It’s about taking the time to look at our patterns and habits and critically asking ourselves if they are serving us.

What are 3 simple ways we can start practicing mindful eating in our daily lives?

  • Think of the end at the beginning – before you put something in your shopping cart or your mouth take a minute to pause and think about how you are going to feel after you eat that food or have that second helping. Is this a food that you are going to feel guilty about after you are done, or one that will make you feel more energized and vibrant and maybe proud that you are making a healthy choice? Fill your cart up with the latter and there won’t be room in your fridge or life for the former.
  • Express gratitude at every meal – You don’t have to belong to any kind of formal religion to take a moment before each meal to express gratitude out loud for the food you are about to eat. Somewhere someone grew the food you are about to eat. Without the sun, the rain, the soil, the farmers, you and the food would not be here. Meal times are a great break in our day when we can take a moment to remember that and be grateful for it. It can be as simple as just saying out loud, “I’m grateful for this food.”
  • Slow down-Do you remember when we were kids an our well-meaning parents or grandparents told us to chew our food at least 32 times.  I remember mechanically chewing my food and counting and swallowing kind of like it was a game. That is not what I’m talking about here. Next time you are eating try this. Pay attention to when you are chewing and swallowing and don’t scoop up the next bite with your fork or spoon until you’ve completely swallowed the last one. It sounds simple right? But if you are like most people it’s easy to put food in your mouth bite after bite without really even realizing if you’ve finished the last bite.

What are a few positive impacts mindful eating can have?

If you are new to the idea of mindful eating it may sound a little unconventional but while I’m not going to make any guarantees that you will lose 30 pounds in the next 30 days, there are real physical positive impacts that mindful eating can have on your health.

Did you know that studies have shown if you take two people – lets say a person who is regularly taking the time to slow down and practice mindful eating and another person who leads a highly stressful rushed lifestyle – and feed them the same foods their bodies are going to process them in totally different ways. When we’re chronically stressed out our body is in constant fight or flight mode causing our hormones to think we need to hang onto every bit of extra energy that we can (you never know when the next famine might hit and we’ll need it right?). So even if a person is making an effort to really eat healthy whole foods, but at the same time are under a lot of chronic stress they can find themselves gaining weight and becoming frustrated because they don’t know why.

Don’t wait until you sign up for that week-long yoga retreat. You can start practicing mindful eating now. It’s something you can do every day that doesn’t have to take too much extra time, but that can have huge positive impacts on your health and wellness. Happy mindful eating!

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

If this article is something that resonates with you stay tuned for my upcoming 10 Days of Mindful Eating Challenge. Sign up for my newsletter for updates on the next course being offered.

Healthy eating starts with creating a solid plan. Find my FREE meal planning guide here to help you get started.